West Virginia University at Parkersburg
300 Campus Drive Parkersburg WV 26104
Phone: 304-424-8203 | Fax: 304-424-8315
WVU Parkersburg to host investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell whose work has led to numerous civil rights-related convictions.
CONTACT: Debbie Richards, special assistant to the President, 304-424-8201
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell, whose work to date has helped to unearth decades' old civil rights cases resulting in numerous convictions, will visit West Virginia University at Parkersburg on Tuesday (Oct. 23).
A reporter with The Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss. since 1986, Mitchell is the author of “The Preacher and the Klansman.”
He will give a free presentation at 7 p.m., Tuesday, in the multi-purpose room. It is open to the public.
His appearance is co-sponsored by The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Mitchell will also meet with the campus community as well as news writing classes at WVU Parkersburg.
In 1989, Mitchell was a court reporter for The Clarion-Ledger when the film “Mississippi Burning” inspired him to look into old civil rights cases that many thought had long since turned cold. Through dogged reporting, he investigated leads long ignored or overlooked. Functioning as an investigative reporter, he unearthed documents, cajoled suspects and witnesses, and quietly pursued evidence in the nation’s notorious killings from the civil rights era.
His reporting has resulted in several convictions, including Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers; Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, for ordering the fatal firebombing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer in 1966; Bobby Cherry, for the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls; Edgar Ray Killen, for helping orchestrate the June 21, 1964, killings of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman; and James Ford Seale for his role in the abductions and killings of two black teenagers, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.
For his work leading to Killen’s imprisonment, the Pulitzer Board in 2006 named Mitchell a Pulitzer Prize finalist, praising him “for his relentless and masterly stories on the successful prosecution of a man accused of orchestrating the killing of three civil rights workers in 1964.”
Also in 2006, his work led a judge to throw out the wrongful conviction of Clyde Kennard, who was fraudulently convicted in 1960 of stealing chicken feed after he tried to enroll at an all-white university in Mississippi.
As a result of Mitchell’s investigations, authorities in Mississippi and six other states have reexamined 29 killings from the civil rights era resulting in 23 convictions.
Mitchell has received more than 20 national awards, including the George Polk Award for Justice Reporting. This year he received the John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger Award for Freedom of the Press. Other national awards include the Vernon Jarrett Award for Investigative Reporting, and the Elijah Lovejoy Award. In 2005 he became the youngest recipient of Columbia University’s John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism.
For his investigative work, Mitchell received the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service, the Heywood Broun Award, the Sidney Hillman Award, the American Legion's Fourth Estate Award, the National Association of Black Journalists' Award for Enterprise Reporting, the Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Award and the Inland Press Association Award. He was the first-ever recipient of the Southeastern chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates award for Journalist of the Year.
In 1999, Gannett honored him with the Outstanding Achievement by an Individual Award, the Best Investigative Reporting Award, the Best In-Depth Reporting Award and its highest honor — the William Ringle Outstanding Achievement Career Award — making him the youngest recipient ever of the award. Two years later, he received the Best Beat Reporting Award from Gannett for his continued work to shine light on these dark crimes of the past, and in 2002, Gannett honored Mitchell as one of its top 10 journalists in the company over the past quarter century. In 2006, Mitchell received the Outstanding Achievement by an Individual Award a second time.
Mitchell has been featured on all the major networks, the Lehrer News Hour, CNN, National Public Radio and he has been profiled in Newsweek, USA TODAY, The New York Times, American Journalism Review, Mother Jones and others.
In 1996, he was portrayed in the Rob Reiner film, “Ghosts of Mississippi.” He has been a consultant and contributor to civil rights documentaries on the Learning Channel and the Discovery Channel.
Mitchell’s work was included in an anthology of the nation’s best journalism over the past three centuries called, Muckraking! The Journalism That Changed America. His book, “The Preacher and the Klansman,” a story of how a preacher-turned-civil rights-activist became friends with a former Ku Lux Klan terrorist, earned him the Associated Press' Outstanding Writing Award, as well as a Columbia Journalism School Citation for Coverage of Race & Ethnicity.
He regularly speaks about his stories and race relations in America at universities across the United States. In 1997, Mitchell received his master’s in journalism from Ohio State University, and in 2006, he received an honorary doctorate from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He lives in Mississippi with his family.